Having a successful career, a beautiful house and good income, is common these days. We all desire to enhance the quality of our lives by discovering profitable employment opportunities. But do you think taking a chance with your life to find your calling is what life is about? It is a conceivable thought for some. It might make one’s life better, perhaps not in a monetary profit but in experience. Here we see a similar example. 

Ms. Shagun Singh, a former corporate employee set out to find her purpose in life. She began the Geeli Mitti Foundation in 2015, Pangot when she decided to quit her successful job in Delhi and move to Uttarakhand. Her decision took everyone by surprise, and she justified it by explaining how she felt it was her duty to contribute to the environment. After working for several years in the office, she realized her life was missing a piece. In an interview she said “ I needed to start something to contribute to the environment, society and myself. I began learning new things such as farming, building houses with natural materials and volunteered at several places.” Her organization works towards creating houses with natural materials, as she herself discovered this art of building mud houses, which has indeed brought great joy into her life.                  

Her family was shocked, but Ms. Singh was adamant about her decision.  People around her assumed she would eventually quit, come home soon. However, in a few years she proved many wrong. Ms.Singh and her team began building mud houses at the Geeli Mitti farms in Pangot. They used the popular cob technique. Ms. Singh explained this technique herself, “Cob is essentially a mixture of clay, sand, straw, and water. We can build load- bearing homes or non-load-bearing homes using it.” They have done over 16 projects which include homes for tourists, animal shelter and schools.              

But why build mud houses? In an interview, with Brut India, while discussing about the purpose of Geeli Mitti Foundation, Ms. Singh seemed to say, “We all have a mindset that mud homes, stone homes, lime homes are meant for poor people. So, I decided to build homes which can become statements. So, let’s make these homes so beautiful, so creative, so gorgeous that it’s a pleasure to come to one and this whole stigma that is associated with it as a poor man’s home goes away from it.”

Other than that, the foundation also works with women’s group among many social empowerment projects. Ms. Shagun’s journey wasn’t effortless. She said, “When you move out of the city into a remote, rural area, there are some typical things that come with it.” A woman moving from a big city to a rural area, it’s not easy to adapt to the culture for her. How did she manage to do that? “I had a very steep learning curve, starting all the way from how to purchase land, (which I had never done before) how to set up an NGO, how to get the locals involved, how to form a bond with them.”

She had to sell few of her assets including her vehicle, her house and she withdrew her savings to launch Geeli Mitti. She was determined to pursue this  path forward. She conducts workshops and teaches youngsters cob- house building, plastering and permaculture design. The income from the workshops assists her in sustaining the costs of the farm and the foundation. 

Are mud houses suitable for living? The idea showcased by Ms. Singh is to carry out vital life processes with care for the society and environment around us. “Natural buildings are made with the focus on durability and the use of minimally processed, plentiful or renewable resources, as well as those that, while recycled or salvaged, produce healthy living environments and maintain indoor air quality,” she explains. Her story asks us to consider our own lifestyle and how we may make it positive while keeping the aspect of sustainable development in mind. 

Further insights into the world of the Geeli Mitti Foundation: https://geelimitti.in

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